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Literature Study GuidesCloud 9Act 1 Scene 4 Summary

Cloud 9 | Study Guide

Caryl Churchill

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Cloud 9 | Act 1, Scene 4 | Summary



It is early morning on the veranda. Edward asks Joshua to tell him "another bad story" and Joshua complies, telling Edward a native tale about the creation of the moon and humans. He assures Edward the story isn't really true because "God made man white like him and gave him the bad woman" who caused "all this trouble." Clive and Harry enter, and Clive tells the others British soldiers set fire to a village the night before, so everyone will need to stay in the house today.

What follows is another revolving door of characters having private conversations. They are, in order:

  • Edward accuses Harry of not paying enough attention to him and threatens to tell Clive about their relationship. Harry panics and makes Edward promise never to tell. Edward wants to run away with Harry.
  • Ellen asks Betty if she will have to find a new job once Edward goes to school. Betty says yes and suggests Ellen go back to England so she can get married and have children. Ellen doesn't want any of that—she just wants Betty.
  • Betty begs for Clive's forgiveness. He tells her to leave him alone.
  • Clive alerts Harry that he knows about the budding romance between Harry and Betty. Harry swears nothing happened, and Clive promises their friendship can't be "spoiled by the weaker sex," and rattles off a list of what he doesn't like about women. Harry, misinterpreting Clive's disdain for women as a love for men, grabs Clive in a romantic embrace. Clive is disgusted; Harry is ashamed. Clive tells Harry to repent and get married, which Harry equates with suicide.
  • Harry proposes to Mrs. Saunders. She rejects him, saying she chooses to be single.
  • Mrs. Saunders tells Clive that Joshua's parents were killed by the British soldiers in a fire the night before. Clive is horrified.
  • Clive offers Joshua the day off to go to his parents' funerals, but Joshua declines. He says his parents were bad people. He considers Clive and Betty to be his real parents.
  • Harry proposes to Ellen, who says yes.
  • Joshua tells Clive how Ellen "talks of love" to Betty, pronouncing them both "bad women." Clive has had enough and tells Joshua to get out of his sight.


As far as the audience knows, Joshua has completely bought into western culture and Christianity. When Edward asks to hear a "bad" story, Joshua knows he really means a story from Joshua's native culture. Likewise, people from Joshua's tribe, and even Joshua's parents, are "bad" people. Whether Joshua actually believes these things or not is up for debate and almost entirely dependent on the actor's portrayal of the character. Yet from a strictly textual standpoint, it appears as if Joshua isn't as docile as he seems. Out of everyone in the family he is outwardly respectful only to Clive. He spies on the others and runs to Clive with his findings. There is a sense he is trying to tear apart the family from the inside, and each of his reports divides the characters even further. His last dispatch to Clive, however, results in a rift he wasn't expecting: one between himself and his master.

Clive's knee-jerk reaction to Joshua's insinuation that Ellen and Betty are lovers isn't unusual for the Victorian era. Homosexuality between men was acknowledged, but not accepted, and became illegal in 1885. Female homosexuality, on the other hand, was considered to be so outrageous and repulsive that it wasn't acknowledged at all. Lesbians of course existed in the 19th century, as they have throughout history, but their relationships were often hidden behind the intimacy of female friendships, which have long been a hallmark of traditional femininity. This is likely how Betty views her relationship with Ellen, as she doesn't seem to understand Ellen's declarations of love as being romantic in nature. As for Clive, he is completely appalled by the mere mention of a female-female sexual relationship, which violates the rigid Victorian principles he holds so dear.

Clive exposes himself as a misogynist, or someone who hates women, in Act 1, Scene 4. This isn't just a case of father knows best—he comes right out and tells Harry women are "irrational, demanding, inconsistent, treacherous, lustful," which he views as threats to manhood. In his mind a woman's worth is limited to her role in reproduction, the family unit, and pleasure. These views make Clive the least sympathetic character in the play, which is purposeful on Churchill's part. To develop the themes of power, gender roles, sexual identity, and feminism, there needs to be a constant force the characters rally against. That force is Clive, who represents the white male patriarchy. He has to stay the same so everyone else can change.

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